A simple and convenient phase extraction assay for chloramphenicol (Cm) acetyltransferase (CAT) activity has been developed, based on the enzymatic butyrylation of radiolabelled Cm. The assay is linear over two to three orders of magnitude of enzyme concentration, is highly sensitive, and substantially less expensive than all presently available alternatives. Methods for convenient CAT assay, adapted for mammalian cells, plant protoplasts, and mammalian cell culture supernatants, are described. These methods should also simplify measurement of CAT activity in other organisms, such as yeast and bacteria. In addition, a simple pre-extraction procedure is presented for purifying radiolabelled Cm which allows a 25-fold increase in sensitivity using tritiated substrates.